Not Everyone Hates The Science Fair!

Science Fairs get a lot of bad press these days, and I don’t like it. Honestly? I think the only bad science fair is a science fair that a child is FORCED to enter every year.

You heard me. The science fair should be 100% voluntary, most of the time.   Maybe it would be better if fifth grade, for example, was a mandatory year, and all others were voluntary.

I fully understand that this stance will not make me very popular with a few science teachers, but as I am a science teacher and a parent, I have a right to my own opinion, which is based on personal experience as are all opinions.

Don’t get me wrong – I am a HUGE fan of science fairs. My own children looked forward to it every year, from K-8, and even while a few other kids were kicking and screaming and whining and claiming it wasn’t FAIR, the fact is, it was absolutely fair. The fair was fair.

This picture went viral recently, all over the internet.

Please click the link and read Ms. Messina's article at the Huffington Post about how and why she created this poster!
Please click the link and read Ms. Messina’s article at the Huffington Post about how and why she created this poster!

This poster was created by Susan Messina, who is not at all against science fairs – just the ones that force kids who aren’t interested to participate, too. Her article over at the Huffington Post is very interesting and informative, and will give you the background into why she decided to make the poster.

Ms. Messina suggests that if the science project is required, then it could be a family project which would allow students and parents to work together collaboratively. I disagree, unless the assignment is for a group project. I think any assigned project should be an individual thing.  Families may, and should, provide encouragement and help with supplies, and the occasional suggestion, but mostly, parents and siblings need to stand back and let the student create. However, if the assignment IS for a group project, then the science fair is the perfect chance for the entire family to learn together!  Otherwise, let the student create the project and show his/her family the creation, complete with hypothesis and experiment and results.  It’s good practice for the judges!

Parents who shamelessly do the science project themselves ruin it for all the families who do it RIGHT.

Years ago, my son was the only one in his kindergarten class to submit an entry to the science fair at his school.  He was obsessed with sea creatures at this time, and with pirates.  His project kind of reflects both interests.  Please don’t call CPS on me; he’s a grown man now.

Andy's diorama.  He had just turned 5.
Andy’s diorama. He had just turned 5.

Now, a diorama is NOT a science project, but for a kindergarten student who had had no instruction and who insisted on entering the science fair even though his teacher and the fair judges weren’t sure if a five-year-old qualified, I think it’s pretty good.  When the judges looked closely, I saw their expressions change and they convened for a chat.  Can you figure out why?

He'd read that pirates sometimes disposed of prisoners this way.
He’d read that pirates sometimes disposed of prisoners this way.

He told the judges that he wanted the bottom of the sea to look interesting.

He wanted to illustrate what happened if a pirate went swimming in infested waters.
He wanted to illustrate what happened if a pirate went swimming in infested waters.

His favorite stuffed toy was a big red octopus we got for him at Epcot.  He wanted to include Big Red in his diorama in such a way that people would remember him.

The octopus is my favorite part of Andy's diorama.
The octopus is my favorite part of Andy’s diorama.

And, he loved tubeworms.  He tried to draw a coral reef but he didn’t think pirates would dispose of a prisoner via the cement shoe route near a coral reef.  “Too many onlookers.”  He may have been only five years old, but even then he was looking ahead.

tube worms

Remember now, that a diorama is NOT a science experiment.  Do not encourage your kids to try to enter a diorama or demonstration or poster as a science project.  My little son, when asked, was able to explain the science behind why cement shoes would certainly sink a naughty pirate to the bottom of the sea, and how a foolish pirate who went swimming in shark-infested waters would certainly become the first course for a shark’s supper,  He did admit that his soft huggie octopus would probably never try to strangle a pirate, but that he’d included that scenario for effect.

But for a very young child who is only just beginning to learn about the world outside his own home, whatever strikes and holds his/her interest is something well worth encouraging.  Just be there to ask questions and be sincerely interested when your child gives you a lengthy explanation.  Take him/her to the library and look at picture books.

Do experiments in your home.  My son tied gravel to his Batman action figure’s feet to see how many it would take to sink the Dark Knight to the bottom of a pail of water.  He got out his postcard of tubeworms from Marineland to make sure he was drawing and coloring them correctly.

As he grew older, his science fair entries were actual experiments, and in seven years, he earned six blue ribbons.  His final entry, in 8th grade, was about how air pollution is destroying the world’s statues and buildings.  He took eight huge pieces of sidewalk chalk and carved them into statues, mounted them here and there on a paper-mache mountain, and sprayed them with vinegar several times a day, to represent pollution.  Every night he took a picture.

Our buildings and statues are definitely being worn down by pollution.

He wanted to use hydrochloric acid instead of vinegar, but we said “no.”

We did have some locked in the garage cabinet, though.

Doesn’t everybody?

 

Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

Gift Giving Made Easy

The season of giving is upon us, so  I know you are wondering who you can turn to when looking for the perfect gift for your little scientists, right?   Steve Spangler Science, of course!  And who better to answer all of your questions about what kits will work best for your budding professor, than your friendly Customer Service Team? Um.. no one!

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Steve Spangler Science has tons of great options for gift giving this season!

Steve Spangler Science has made it even easier to shop for the holidays on our website, and we’ve added some great new products just in time for big seasonal shopping.  Simply click the Products tab on the black bar at the top of the page to find our Holiday category.   Under this section you’ll not only be able to search for gifts by age, but you can also check out our selection of Stocking Stuffers, and this year’s Top 12 Toys!

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The newest edition to Steve Spangler Science was the highly anticipated launch of our Spangler Science Club!  This subscription program is perfect for the children, parents, teachers and even yourself.

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Spangler Science Club

Spangler Science Club provides a box packed with new experiments that are delivered to your door each month.   The best part of the Spangler Science Club is that you can tailor it to your budget!  If your pocket book is tight this season, you can start with a month to month subscription.   But you will gain the most value if your budget can stretch to purchase the 12 month subscription (up to $5 savings each month, per kit!)

20141016_Spangler_Science_Club_05.3If you’re a one and done kind of gift giver, we have a huge selection  for you too!  Our Customer Service Team has complied a few ideas for giving to both the individual child, as well as some for a family to share.

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Six Test Tube Experiments in a Rack  (Item#WTTC-200)

Customer Service Team picks for giving to the Individual Child

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Sick Science Simple Circuits ( Item #WSKS-123)

 Customer Service picks for giving to a Family

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Pop Top Rockets (Item #WPTR-500)

 

Customer Service picks for giving to your Teacher

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Baby Soda Bottles Test Tubes & Rack (Item# WBSB-500)

 

If there are just too many options and you simply can’t decide, the best choice would be to give the gift of shopping! A Steve Spangler Science Gift Certificate will always fit perfectly, and is an amazing gift for that special educator, parent or child.  Plus, the customizable amounts allow you to give great gifts without breaking your wallet.

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If you need more information on any of our products, please call our Customer Service Team at (800) 223-9080, or leave a comment below and we would be happy to help you out.

Happy Shopping!!!

How to Study Density with Popcorn

by Christy McGuire, Contributor

Thanksgiving is almost here! You can use one of the original foods from the first Thanksgiving to discuss density with your students. Popcorn is fascinating because it changes so drastically during the cooking process. The color, shape and texture of a popped kernel are all different than those of an unpopped kernel. If you can spare the day before Thanksgiving break, this simple density experiment would be a great way to practice their inquiry skills, and a great excuse to have a treat in class!

How to Study Seeds with Popcorn/How to Combine Thanksgiving and Science in your Elementary Classroom

If your students have already covered density, this is a great time to practice doing a full exploration complete with a written report. You might simply give them access to the relevant materials and set them loose with this challenge:

Find how density changes for popped verses upopped corn. Check the results of your experiment and write a description of your findings, including an error analysis.

If density is a new concept, or if your students are struggling to get the hang of the scientific method, you can help them figure out the procedure. Make them do as much of the thinking as possible though! Science is more fun for the engineer making the decisions than for the technician doing as he is told.

Leading questions to help students develop their procedures

How do we calculate density? (mass per volume)

What measurements will we need to take in order to find density? (mass and volume)

How do we measure mass? How do we measure volume? (balance, and appropriate beakers)

How are we changing the popcorn? (popping method)

The Science of Popcorn

Hints for a successful experiment

You can expect your popcorn to increase in volume by about 16X.

To  pop the corn over heat, put a couple of tablespoons of oil in the pot or beaker, add corn and heat over medium heat.

If you are using a microwave, you can measure the volume of the popcorn in a bag of microwave popcorn and assume the same volume is in a second bag of popcorn that you pop before class.

Increase accuracy by repeating with varying quantities of popcorn, or by combining data from multiple lab groups.

Science of Popcorn

Data Analysis

If you wish, you can have your students graph mass a function of volume for various amounts of unpopped corn, then do another graph for the popped corn. The slope of these graphs will be the density of the popcorn.

You can also ask your students to compute density algebraically, then graph density as a function of popped or unpopped.

Requiring students to analyze the accuracy of their results could provide some very interesting feedback. Lab groups could compare results with the rest of the class. They can also compare the initial and final masses and try to defend any changes that they find. My experience is that the mass of the popcorn actually increases during this experiment. Don’t tell your students! See what they can come up with to justify their own answers. Factors that they may want to consider include the mass and volume of the oil used to cook the kernels and the humidity on the day of the experiment.

No matter what your students’ level, this experiment can be adjusted to provide a challenging, and interesting exercise. I hope you will enjoy. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Christy McGuire is a trained physics teacher who loves developing new ways for students to engage with science.  While taking a break from the high school classroom, Christy rediscovered that young children are tons of fun, and can learn powerful science and math too.  Now she is attempting to cross the excitement of early childhood style learning with serious STEM study to benefit students on both ends of the learning process.    Find activities and reflections on STEM learning on her blog: www.ThrivingSTEM.com.

An Amazing Encounter!

In the course of an ordinary day, it’s amazing how many cool people we encounter!  Just last week, I was in Best Buy trading my old cell phone in for a newer model and the guy helping me looked at my Steve Spangler Science shirt and said, “I love that website, and I have a YouTube channel showing people how to do those experiments!”

I looked at his name tag and said, “Wow, Max, you have a YouTube channel about Spangler Science experiments? That’s amazing!”

Here’s his version of Spangler Science’s color changing milk experiment.

Mcexperiment's version of Spangler Science's color changing milk experiment!
Mcexperiment’s amazing version of Spangler Science’s color changing milk experiment!

Max demonstrates many of our experiments on his channel, including our tea bag rocket!  Check out this picture of his version!

Max sets of a tea bag rocket!
Max sets of a tea bag rocket! Amazing!

Click on over to Max’s YouTube channel and subscribe, why don’tcha.  He’s got a way of presenting and explaining our science experiments that’s really quite amazing!  We’re impressed.  We’re always happy and proud when we find people who love our experiments, and Max made us really, really glad and proud!  Thank you for being an amazing person, Max!

If you need to change out your cell phone, go to Best Buy and ask for Max.  He’s awesome.

 

Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

How to Use Popcorn to Teach Rates

by Christy McGuire, Contributor

This time of year, students’ minds are starting to drift to the upcoming Thanksgiving Holidays. Why not use popcorn to channel a little of that excitement into your classroom? Use popcorn to teach graphing, rate, and slope. Let your students eat your props, and you will quickly be one of the coolest teachers to ever discuss rates.Here is how to use popcorn to teach rates.

How to Study Seeds with Popcorn/How to Combine Thanksgiving and Science in your Elementary Classroom

The Slow Approach

Materials:

  • Popcorn
  • Paper towel
  • Small plastic bag
  • Cups of Potting Soil
  • Ruler

Last week I gave some ideas for teaching younger students about seeds using popcorn.  Corn germinates quickly and grows quickly too, which makes it a great plant to measure over a period of time. You can get a meaningful graph by measuring every day or so.

 

  1. Start having students set up corn to germinate in the window. You can expect germination to take about three days.
  2. Then plant it in a pot with soil.
  3. Have your students measure the height of the plants every day or every two days between now and Thanksgiving, and record your findings on a labeled data chart.
  4. On the last class before Thanksgiving break, you can have them graph their findings. You may want to remind them that time is the independent variable, and thus belongs on the x (across the page) axis. Height is the dependent variable and thus belongs on the y (vertical) axis.

How to Use Popcorn to Teach Rates

The Fast Approach

Materials:

  • Popcorn
  • Stop watch
  • Oil
  • Cooking Pot
  • Heat Source

(You can also use a bag of popcorn and a microwave)

Have your students get set with lined paper and their pencils. Tell them that during each twenty-second interval, they are to make a mark for each pop that they hear.
When you call time, move to the next line and make a mark for each pop. They will repeat until all the corn is popped.

  1. Put a couple tablespoons of oil in the cooking pot and about a quarter cup of popcorn. Cook on medium heat with the lid covering the pot.
  2. When you are finished, pop some more corn, and let your students enjoy while they make their data charts and graphs. Time is again the independent variable and belongs on the x (horizontal) axis.
  3. If there is interest, try repeating for differing amounts of popcorn and think about how the amounts affect your data.
How to Use Popcorn to Teach Rates
Analyzing the Data for Either Approach (or Both!)

Depending on where you are in your curriculum, there are a few different directions you can take your class after completing their graphs.

If you do both of these projects, ask students to write a paragraph comparing and contrasting the graphs.

Or, You can have your students draw tangent lines near the beginning and end of the curve. Tell them to find the slope of each and write an explanation of why the slopes are different.

Or, ask your students to add best fit lines to the graph and calculate their slopes. Students can write a paragraph in which they compare and contrast the results of the best fit line to those of the tangent line and give an opinion on which is more useful.

Or, tell students to add a third tangent line in the middle, and find that slope. Then, graph the slopes verses time.   Ask students to write a paragraph explain the meaning of this new slope.

Put popcorn on the shopping list and plan to have some fun in your class this week.

 

Christy McGuire is a trained physics teacher who loves developing new ways for students to engage with science.  While taking a break from the high school classroom, Christy rediscovered that young children are tons of fun, and can learn powerful science and math too.  Now she is attempting to cross the excitement of early childhood style learning with serious STEM study to benefit students on both ends of the learning process.    Find activities and reflections on STEM learning on her blog: www.ThrivingSTEM.com.